I’m in issue 62 of Journey Planet (“Crafting during COVID”) talking at length about creating art for Glasgow in 2024 during lockdown, with pics. I cover Shipbuilding Over the Clyde, Glasgow Green Lady and Sailing Over Glasgow in a bit more detail than my recent Hugo 2021 eligibility blog post, including some work-in-progress and preparatory pictures. If you’re interested in that kind of thing! There’s even a bit of my fan art.
(Don’t worry, there are many more interesting contributors too!)
According to the Daily Mirror a Doctor Who “source” has used words like “darker” and “scarier” to describe the next series (Series 12). But are those things good for Doctor Who?
Disclaimer: I’m going to say some things in this blog that sound prescriptive about what Doctor Who “should” be. They’re just my opinions.
So, in my opinion the series thrives best when it’s accessible to all audiences, let’s say from age 6 up. There’s a huge difference between being scary in an unreal, fantasy-adventure way (‘Dalek’, ‘Blink’) and scary in a jarring adult way. Doctor Who doesn’t always get that tone right, but it does it best when it knows what it is and where to draw the line. The handling of cremation in ‘Dark Water’/’Death in Heaven’ was for me too real; unnerving in the wrong way. The same goes for aspects of ‘World Enough and Time’ (“pain pain pain”). It’s the difference between a 12 and a PG rating in the UK. Your mileage may vary, but for me Doctor Who should aim for PG. It should feel like safe, family-friendly horror.
I think we’ve moved past the days of ‘The New Adventures’, when Doctor Who tried to “grow up” by becoming grim and seedy (okay I haven’t read most of them, don’t @ me). The series since 2005 definitely skews a bit older in some aspects than the classic show; towards character, romance and complexity. But that’s okay. Kids can handle those things just fine. What it doesn’t do on the whole is try to be ‘gritty’ or ‘dark’ in that way that you think represents maturity when you’re 15, when you think the 1960s Batman TV show is embarrassing and Zach Snyder is the epitome of being grown up.
If anything the modern series has properly grown up. Grown up enough to not care about being “mature”. It’s embraced its own silliness: the colour, the space fantasy, and the bonkers bits. It’s embraced positivity and hope and done so in an unselfconscious way that isn’t kitsch, or doesn’t care if it is.
A big part of how much kids can take in a show like this is how safe they feel, and a big part of that is about how welcoming the characters are, and how safe THEY feel. It’s okay to put the characters in dire peril, it’s rarely okay to actually kill them. Brilliant though ‘World Enough and Time’ and ‘The Doctor Falls’ are, the horror they put Bill through is right on the edge of being wrong for the show. (If she hadn’t survived I would condemn it outright, but her deus ex machina rescue–though a little bit artless–is beautiful and saves it for me.) It’s one reason why I think that consciously setting out to make the Twelfth Doctor off-putting in his early episodes went slightly too far. You never want the audience questioning, as Clara does in ‘Deep Breath’, whether the Doctor will come back and save them. He or she can be alien, can have different attitudes towards other aliens, can be angry at humanity, but above all else they have to be someone who cares when you’re in danger and who will always save you. Do that, and the rest is all grace notes. Don’t get me wrong I adore Peter Capaldi, I adore the Twelfth Doctor and I largely don’t feel that he was un-Doctorish. But there were moments early on, they were deliberate, and they didn’t quite work. You can see that they knew it, because the writing and the performance took a rapid step back from them, and what we ended up with from that slight misstep is a lovely character arc for the Twelfth Doctor throughout his run, culminating in “Just be kind”. And that’s what the show is about, what it should always be about. It’s what Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is emphatically about: your best friend from outer space.
So when I hear that the show will be darker my response is to hope that darker means central characters who are heroic and likeable, who may face horror and personal struggles, who may stumble, but who always emerge triumphant and always keep me safe; “darker” that isn’t cruel or cowardly but is exciting and scary and fun. Let’s wait and see, because I suspect that’s exactly what we’re going to get.
Not all criticism of Series 11 is sexist. (Although by god when it is sexist you can smell it a mile off.) Absolutists aside, I’ve seen plenty of sensible critique.
But that doesn’t mean assumptions about gender aren’t a factor. For me, The Thirteenth Doctor is as iconically the Doctor as any we’ve seen. So when people who are not (obviously) sexist say they feel Jodie Whittaker’s female Doctor lacks eccentricity and gravitas, that she’s not ‘Doctorish’, I do wonder what expectations are at play, and to what extent those expectations are rooted in gender. There are still strong, unspoken cultural taboos against women being funny or authoritative. It can be done brilliantly and yet still read as ‘off’ because it subverts expectations.
There’s a further layer of expectation to overcome. It’s perfectly possible for a woman to act precisely like a male hero: the arse-kicking, wise-cracking “strong female character” who holds her own in a man’s world by behaving like a male stereotype. It’s an assertive female character we do see slightly more often in drama. But when women are strong in a different way from men I think we arguably find more resistance. The Thirteenth Doctor is certainly not above the egoism and speechifying of past Doctors, but I wonder if there’s a tendency to undervalue her particular style of quirkiness and moral indignation because it’s often expressed in a less bombastic way.
I’ve seen some saying the Thirteenth Doctor hasn’t had her ‘big Doctor moment’. I’d argue she’s had loads. It’s just that Whittaker doesn’t grandstand. She foregrounds the Doctor’s sincerity, urgency and a sense of searching inside herself. ‘Big Doctor moments’ needn’t involving standing on Stonehenge with a microphone.
It’s different from recent Doctors, but by no means unprecedented. It reminds me of Peter Capaldi’s speech in ‘Thin Ice’ about the value of a human life; underplayed in a searching way that seems almost confessional. It reminds me too of Matt Smith’s marvellous “we’re all stories in the end” speech.
I’m conscious that there’s a risk of pigeon-holing the first ever female Doctor Who as “the empathetic one”. Whittaker is a quixotic bundle of energy and personality, it’s just that she’s also very grounded. For me her performance is of a piece with the general change in tone that the show has undergone this year, to a less grandiose, more personal style. I’d go so far as to say we’d have seen some of her more self-effacing traits in a male Thirteenth Doctor because it feels so organic to the new era.
And I like this vision of Doctor; this human, real, vulnerable hero who still triumphs through wit and determination. I like it in male Doctors too: Peter Davison’s breathless sense of not being entirely in control; Patrick Troughton’s fallibility and indignation. Again these are not new traits in the Thirteenth Doctor, only the emphasis has shifted. What’s different is that male actors are allowed to subvert male stereotypes without having to prove their credentials. Whittaker, at least to some, does have something to prove. Despite the striking variety of performances that have come before her in the role, she can’t just be the Doctor and make the Doctor her own. She also has to measure up to expectations; to be funny in the right way, authoritative in the right way. To be at the more arse-kicking, wise-cracking end of the Doctor’s personality. And I think it’s worth questioning where our gut feeling about that “right” way comes from, whether we’d be holding a male actor to those same expectations, or whether we’re letting unexamined assumptions get in the way.
Jodie Whittaker is a great Doctor. She’s silly and quirky and funny. She’s passionate and indomitable and loyal. She’s a champion of what’s right, a righter of wrongs. She’s every bit the Doctor, and she’s every bit herself.
So, just for the record, I’m really very chuffed about that Doctor Who casting.
I have the same buzz I did when they cast Capaldi, but for different reasons. It’s not the same-old-same-old safe choice. I really thought they might cast a Tennant clone because of the perceived commercial success that would bring. But we’ve done that already. It’s there on DVD. We haven’t done this. And who’s to say that the boring choice wouldn’t have bored viewers? Maybe moving in new directions is what’s in the show’s longer-term interests.
Interesting that new showrunner Chris Chibnall pushed for a female Doctor, and he’s got one of his leads from Broadchurch! That’s how to put your stamp on a show. I don’t think Jodie Whittaker’s character in Broadchurch was especially ‘Doctorish’, but you know these auditions are a tough process and they’ve had he same Casting Director since Christopher Eccleston was chosen. She only got this part if she aced it.
More from my short-lived spell of keeping newspaper clippings back in the 1980s, something I’ve never done before or since. Teenagers, eh?
These are all Doctor Who-related, spanning from the announcement of Colin Baker as the Doctor through to the announcement of Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor. They mainly concern the 18 month hiatus taken by the show, about which I was understandably obsessed.
First up, the announcement of Baker the Second taking the role, and our local paper’s very ringing endorsement of him after the “wet” Peter Davison. Harsh. The Hull Daily Mail was something of a staunch Who supporter , but they were perhaps an outlier in their complete adoration of Colin Baker. Commendably, they remained staunch supporters of his through thick and thin, as we’ll see.
The national press were clearly not so enamoured. Here’s a lovely (i.e. typical) bit from the Daily Express combining moral outrage about violence with mild salaciousness all in one story. The word “nubile” really doesn’t see the light of day much these days. Does include the quite amazing quote “I trust Dr Who rapidly makes it clear that people eating is wrong.” (Pedantically I do feel that sentence needs a hyphen, otherwise they’re taking a controversial stance against restaurants.)
I can only apologise for the poor preservation of this clipping. My Time-Space Visualiser is in need of tuning.
On or around the same date (my filing not being what it should be) the Daily Express also announced, perhaps slightly prematurely, that the show had been axed. Naturally they saw this in terms of the licence fee. I do think they deserve some kudos for a) bothering to interview fans and b) listing the Doctors in the right order and spelling all their names correctly.
At least there was some consolation! (Did they actually air these repeats, I can’t remember?)
The Hull Daily Mail also went with the Licence Fee theory (with the factually questionable observation that “Even The Master wouldn’t stoop so low just to make a point“) and joined the Express letching at Peri being “scantily-clad“, while continuing to big up Colin Baker as “the best yet“.
All together now, “Doctor in Distress!” I remember finding this single painfully embarrassing even at the time.
The Daily Telegraph weighed in, comparing the BBC to an unscrupulous drugs pusher. Sorry, “pusher”. Hard to tell if they’re outraged at the hiatus or just happy to have an excuse to cheerfully bash the BBC, but despite casting Doctor Who fans as junkies it’s quite supportive overall.
Moving on 18 months, and the Hull Daily Mail manages to announce the show’s return with the most negative slant possible (“doomed“!), and features some lovely disingenous quotes from Michael Grade where he makes out that it was all just about the violence. I think he reads the Daily Express. Congratulations however to this article for mentioning Peri without using the words “nubile” or “scantily“.
Okay, wait, they’ve sacked Colin Baker! Maybe it’s doomed after all… I remember hugely enjoying ‘Trial of a Timelord’ when it aired. That opening shot of the space station clearly went straight to my teenage fanboy head, just as it was supposed to, but even beyond that it felt very much like an old-fashioned season to me. The Vervoids story in particular hit me with nostalgia for the Tom Baker era quite strongly. I was outraged when I learned that Colin Baker was leaving without so much as a proper regeneration.
And so in comes Sylvester McCoy. Mercifully no-one feels inclined to letch over Bonnie Langford, who only merits the adjective “squeaky“. Michael Grade is quoted again on violence but also wants to see if “the stories are better“. Now he’s just being unreasonable.
Besides, with a “snow dragon” and a “berserk bunch of robotic charladies“, this will clearly be the best season yet.
I’ll confess to being quite underwhelmed by McCoy at the time. I didn’t “get” the rather ‘Indie’ take on the show that ‘Paradise Towers’ represented, I hated the new theme and opening credits, I felt the storytelling was amateurish, I was embarassed by the Kandyman, and I was baffled by the comedy of ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. I still don’t entirely disown those opinions, but I did warm to the remainder of McCoy’s run and there are some genuine classics among the last couple of years. I can even summon up some nostalgia for the credits sequence. Some.
And there my clippings go quiet, probably because I was suddenly far more interested in the arrival of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Teenagers, eh?
The thing about Doctor Who art is that there’s a hell of a lot of it. Traditional, digital, photoshop. Every DVD. Every book. The comics get about three covers each on a monthly basis. And that’s even leaving out the vast body of fan art, the dark matter that holds the internet together. And of course it’s all (mostly) amazing. This makes it bloody hard to come up with an idea for an image that doesn’t feel like it’s been done to death.
I knew I wanted to do another bit of Doctor Who fan art, and I chose Troughton because the 50th anniversary of his first appearance gave me the perfect excuse. I’ve always loved his ‘Harpo Marx’ air of shambolic eccentricity. (And the hat. That ridiculous hat.) The strange thing is that despite being a lifelong Doctor Who fan I mainly know the black and white stories through the Target novelisations and old issues of Doctor Who Monthly. It’s only more recently I’ve started to properly catch up with Hartnell and Troughton on DVD, and of the two it’s Troughton whose performance truly transcends the character on the printed page. Mercurial, always adding some little bit of ‘business’ to his scenes, but clever and sombre when he needs to be.
The problem was what do do with him. For the Peter Capaldi one I’d at least had the fresh angle of juxtaposing him with the earliest Cybermen. The idea of Mondas being Earth’s upside-down mirror lent itself to the angular yin-yang design of the image, which felt a little bit out of the ordinary. It crystallised in my head. I knew it could work. Now every other idea I could think of was either standard portraiture (like my preparatory pencil sketch) or a floating-head movie poster.
My eventual inspiration was the recorder. Lack of on-screen appearances notwithstanding, it’s attained an iconic association with the Second Doctor, and I suddenly hit upon the idea of making that the ‘hook’, with the tune emerging from it… and the tune containing images… and the images being a rough sort of record of his journeys. It’s pretty eccentric (in keeping with the character) and had the virtue of being something I hadn’t seen before, which always makes me much happier.
I’d originally envisaged more of a twinkly!Troughton, but it turns out that playing the recorder and smiling at the same time is quite tricky, so we ended up with frowny!Troughton instead. (More attack eyebrows). He has a really distinctive face which you’d think would be a doddle to draw. I even sketched him first, and it went fine. But I had huge trouble with the likeness for the painting. I mean, epic trouble. I’d show you, but I didn’t take any photos at that stage to spare me THE SHAME. It was only with quite a bit of over-painting that I found something I was happy with, and… the process went really smoothly after that. (Turns out it was just the usual “I can’t draw, I’m useless” stage I often go through).
I picked a blue colour for the ‘tune’, which does make it look a little bit like he’s blowing water out of his recorder (Daughter: “Daddy, I told you you should have used purple!”), but I think it complements the earth-tones of the face, and picks up on his blue eyes. I deliberately used a looser style for these phantom images as it’s not something I’d tried before and it suits the more ethereal quality of the visions. I kept fiddling with the pencils to find more dramatic angles, less standard reference photos, that better suited the flow. I decided not to distract from the main image with companions or human foes (and let’s be honest avoid any more likenesses), so stuck to the more alien foes. Those are the ones that appeal to the 12 year old boy in me anyway.
I’m quite happy with it overall. In hindsight and with a bit more confidence I’d have used an even lighter touch and left even more white space in the ‘tune’, maybe tailed it off a bit earlier at the top. Because of the looser style in that section my very light pencils still show slightly a bit in places, so that’s something to avoid. Live and learn.
far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be Chris Achilleos. Or maybe Andrew Skilleter. I was hazy on the details. But one thing I did know was that instead of growing up and doing a boring job I could maybe, just possibly, grow up and draw Doctor Who for the rest of my life.
Somehow that didn’t happen, but it’s hard to deny that I’ve never felt more like a proper artist than when doing my own little bit of Doctor Who illustration. I even left some room at the top for a logo.
This piece was inspired partly by the 50th anniversary of the Cybermen, and partly by an answer Peter Capaldi has given when asked what classic monster he’d like to face in his tenure as the Twelfth Doctor: the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen first seen in William Hartnell’s regeneration story. I like the juxtaposition of the latest incarnation of the Doctor and the earliest years of the show, and of Capaldi’s craggy, characterful face with the bland mask of the Cyberman.
Conscious that I’m approximately the millionth person to paint this particular image of a Cyberman (The Tenth Planet being quite short on good quality close-up telesnaps) I’ve tried to incorporate them into an unusual design that picks up on imagery from the Tenth Planet: the upside-down mirror Earth that is (nonsensically) Mondas, and a version of the computer lettering that opened each episode.
I wasn’t meaning to write reviews of Doctor Who this year, but bits of these spiky, slightly experimental episodes keep sticking in my head. After the romp to end all romps that was ‘Robot of Sherwood’ (huge fun but yes, please could that end all romps now?) ‘Listen’ is a very different affair, and it’s got me pondering again. On Capaldi’s Doctor. On whether Clara is well-written. And on whether Steven Moffat can write.
So my LonCon3 write up reminded me of a dim memory that I attended a Doctor Who convention in 1984. Turns out it was 1985, not 1984. Phew! I’m not old after all1.
I was inspired to dig out the old convention guide, since I figured it might be of interest to about seven people on the internet. You can find some images of it below.
Now it has to be said that my memory of 1985 is somewhat hazy and my main recollection of this convention is falling asleep during a 37-part2 black and white story in the all night video room instead of going back to the B&B. You have to remember that this was before I’d have seen much if any Who on videotape so I was probably only familiar with the ones I’d seen on air in the Seventies and Eighties (my earliest Who memory is Planet of the Spiders) plus whatever paltry repeats the BBC had deigned to show. I knew the show’s past mainly from the Target novelisations, which I devoured from an early age and which I credit for getting me into SF. Actually watching honest to goodness old episodes was a proper novelty back then.
Here’s me (on the left of the picture) and my best friend Paul outside the Wiltshire hotel at the tender age of 16. One of my first trips away from home without my parents, possibly the very first. Looking pretty sharp, I think you’ll agree.
Below are some scans of the Convention guide. Click for larger versions.
First up, here’s the cover sporting Kaled Man of the Year and all round good egg Davros. Also the welcome page:
Next, the list of celebrity guests and the two day programme which ran from 24th to 25th August 1985, after Colin Baker’s first full season and during the long hiatus before ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ aired a full year later.
We were treated to Colin Baker, David ‘Cyberleader’ Banks, Nicholas ‘Brigadier’ Courtney, Matt ‘Special effects’ Irvine, Sarah ‘Production Team’ Lee, John ‘K-9’ Leeson, John ‘Benton’ Levene, Ian ‘Harry’ Marter, Peter ‘Nyder’ Miles, and David ‘Son of’ Troughton.
I do remember seeing Matt Irvine, who is one of the few people I can readily identify in the panel photo below from his many appearances on Swap Shop and his amazingly ’80s fashion sense. (Again, click for a larger version). Is that John Levene leaning in on far left? Presumably that’s Peter Miles (Nyder) third from left. Ian Marter far right, maybe. Nick Courtney third from right? I also do remember seeing K-9, who I’m almost certain is the one in the middle of the second photo below. (Amazingly high quality pictures I think you’ll agree.) Strangely I have no recollection whatsoever of that Colin Baker bloke, who you’d imagine I’d have been at least slightly excited to see. I also took no other pictures of any interest whatsoever. What was I thinking? These days I’d have taken several hundred.
There was also an auction of memorabilia. Lots of premium items like tatty paperback books and annuals. On the second page you can see that I’ve written in biro what some of the sales went for. You’ll note that I was particularly impressed by £20 for a scarf donated by Liz Sladen. To be fair this was probably more money than I’d ever seen up to that point. It doesn’t say if it was screen-used, or just one she had in the back of a drawer.
So there you have it. The least timely con report in Doctor Who history.
EDITED TO ADD: Although the specfics of the con have largely left me (sadly for you the reader) what sticks with me is the huge sense of anticipation I felt. That feeling of connecting with the show. I’d been reading Doctor Who Monthly since issue 1, I owned The Making of Doctor Who, the Monster Book and all the other stuff I could lay my hands on, but being in the presence of people who actually made the show felt surreal. I’ve no idea how many attendees there were but it was a tiny and domestic affair compared to modern conventions. That hardly mattered to a 16 year old Doctor Who fan. My fandoms have considerably broadened since then, but the Doctor Who one has never left me.
— 1 I’m only fooling myself. 2 Approximately.
A while ago we watched the recently rediscovered Second Doctor tale ‘The Enemy of the World’ on DVD (a present from my wonderful wife). Since my Hartnell and Troughton knowledge is shamefully poor compared to my knowledge of later Who, I had no knowledge of the story except for the ‘high concept’ premise: world dictator Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor. I don’t even remember reading the novelisation. I suppose I was expecting some kind of Man in the Iron Mask storyline in which The Doctor must impersonate the dictator, but – although much of the story is driven by this concept – it seldom actually happens. What we get instead is a very enjoyable spy thriller, quite tightly edited and pacey in contrast to much 1960s Doctor Who (we get next to no recaps at the start of most episodes).
Episode one is particularly action-packed, with a helicopter and hovercraft providing probably the greatest concentration of real hardware in one episode until Pertwee’s swan song ‘Planet of the Spiders’. Subsequent episodes are more studio-bound (with some of the most painfully cramped ‘outdoor’ scenes ever committed to videotape.) But despite that the story fair barrels along without the usual quagmire of capture-escape-recapture that plagues six-parters – partly because of the slightly bizarre left turn it takes around episode 4. (The worst I can say about the pacing is that the Doctor spends too much time sitting on his hands, but given that Troughton is pulling double duties that’s understandable). It’s a highly melodramatic story, and the late plot twist involving Salamander’s buried secret stretches credibility almost to breaking point, but David Whitaker’s deft script never loses control of its pulpy twists and turns. Unlike some Who from the era, this holds your attention right to the end.
Troughton’s performance as would-be dictator Salamander is broad, particularly the ‘interesting’ choice of a thick Mexican accent, but he’s utterly unlike the Doctor and really shows his versatility. (It’s notable having seen Orphan Black that the two Troughton characters don’t share the screen until the finale, presumably a by-product of production constraints). In fact Whitaker crafts several strong characters who transcend their various ‘types’ – notably including an extremely capable female character in Astrid, and a rounded black female character in Fariah – with the help of a mostly excellent main cast.
It all wraps up a tad swiftly and conveniently, hinging on one too many character reversals and convenient coincidences, but not enough to mar a thoroughly enjoyable serial.
A new teaser image from the upcoming Doctor Who season, featuring the Doctor and Amy in silly poses, some returning and new monsters, and a swirly blue time vortex that looks like the Tom Baker credits reimagined in computer graphics. Wonder if the background is part of the new credits sequence…
We also caught up on some ye olde Doctor Who recently. City of Death is a serial I have very vivid memories of watching as a child in the 1970s: Scaroth revealing his one-eyed face, his spaceship exploding, the trip to renaissance Italy, the multiple Mona Lisas, the time bubble that accelerates egg into Chicken, and vice-versa. It’s all there in my mind’s eye. Fortunately this one holds up surprisingly well, even going back to it after all this time. Although we’re moving into his later, less uniformly successful, years in the role Tom Baker is a joy. The location filming in Paris is effective (even if it gratuitously packs in every Paris cliche going, and seems to feature endless shots of the Doctor and Romana aimlessly wandering), and the pacing is snappy, particularly for vintage Who. Douglas Adams’ (pseudonymous) witty script doesn’t hurt, either. It’s not an absolute classic, and in common with a lot of old Who there’s a certain sense of gabbled exposition and rushed anticlimax, but it’s very solid.
Next up was Masque of Mandragora, an earlier Tom Baker story featuring Sarah Jane Smith as the companion. In contrast to ‘City of Death’ I seem to have no memory whatsoever of watching this when I was younger. All my vague recollections come from the target novelisation. That makes watching it slightly surreal since I broadly remember key elements from the book, but imagined them completely differently. Viewed with modern eyes this one has a script, acting and production values that feel significantly above the baseline standard for 70s Doctor Who. There’s a vigour to the characterisation that reminded me of a Robert Holmes script, and the renaissance setting really works; the Doctor fits in seamlessly into an era poised between superstition and scientific discovery. Seeing actors like Tom Piggott-Smith in essentially Shakespearean garb helps my suspension of disbelief immensely, and the setting is aided by unusually convincing location filming in Portmerion (looking not too much like The Prisoner). The set-up also feels unusual, with the Doctor being essentially responsible for the threat. There are a few wobbly sets and creaky special effects, and like ‘City of Death’ the denouement is rushed, but there’s a lot to enjoy. Plus there’s a blatant sequel hook at the end. Come on Mr Moffatt, you know you want to…